The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Gifted and Talented Education
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 7, 2017
At the March 28, 2017 Board meeting, you heard public comment from several speakers related to the state's role in gifted and talented education. This memo provides information on the topic.
Massachusetts law includes several general references to gifted and talented education:
- The powers and duties of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education include providing "technical assistance, curriculum, materials, support services and other services to schools and school districts, to encourage programs for gifted and talented students." G.L. c. 69, s. 1B.
- School districts submit data to the Department on a wide array of programs and services, in a format and on a schedule that the Department determines. One data element listed in the statute is "programs for gifted and talented students." G.L. c. 69, s. 1I.
- The Board's advisory councils specified in statute include an advisory council on gifted and talented education. G.L. c. 15, s. 1G.
- The statute on virtual schools directs the Board to give priority to proposals that will serve students in one or more of thirteen categories, including "gifted and talented students." G.L. c. 71, s. 94.
The Commonwealth directly supports the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, a specialized high school for academically accelerated students in grades 11 and 12 located at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, via a line item in the state budget. For several years until the early 2000s, the Legislature also included in the Department's budget a line item (7061-9621) for "the administration of a grant program for gifted and talented school age children." This line item has not been funded in the last decade.
Under Massachusetts law, school districts determine how to educate students who are identified as gifted or talented, including whether to provide specialized programs or services for them.
The Board has an advisory council focused specifically on issues related to gifted and talented education. This year, the Department sought the council's advice on our ESSA state plan at a meeting in December 2016. The council recommended adding an indicator into the accountability system focused on progress of high performing students.
In recent years, the council has recommended that the Department collect more information from districts and schools on programming available for students who perform above grade level. Programmatically, it recommended greater focus on differentiation and increased challenge for students who are already high performers and on "gifted underachievers" who may be underperforming because of disengagement rather than skill.
The public comment we heard at the March 28 Board meeting suggests that some districts could be more responsive in providing a supportive and engaging environment for their gifted students. One way districts may choose to address these students' needs is through personalized learning, which allows students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace based on demonstrated competency on the expectations set by the curriculum frameworks.
This year, the Department partnered with the LearnLaunch Institute and more than 20 Massachusetts school districts to establish the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech (MAPLE) Consortium, a public-private partnership designed to catalyze personalize learning in the Commonwealth. MAPLE will support districts and schools in shifting to student-centered teaching and learning through the use of competency-based progression, personal learning paths, flexible learning environments, learner profiles, personal connections, and technology.
Report from Education Commission of the States
In November 2016 the Education Commission of the States produced a policy analysis on state and federal policy for gifted and talented students. The report provides helpful information about the current policy landscape in this area and is attached to this memo.
As we move forward, we will look for opportunities to provide guidance to districts on working with students who are gifted, talented, and/or academically accelerated. We are also exploring whether we could use our state data to provide reports to districts about students who may be capable of more advanced coursework but currently are not assigned to those courses. We will keep you updated, particularly on the potential of the MAPLE Consortium to address the needs and concerns of gifted and talented students.
Education Commission of the States: State and Federal Policy: Gifted and talented youth